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So, you want to be a coach?

Becoming an effective professional coach is an important and significant role. With over 20 years of coaching expertise, Graham shares his tips and ideas about starting or improving your coaching practice.



Welcome to this edition of The Coaching Conversation. Today, I thought I would aim this particular session toward people who are thinking about becoming a coach or perhaps people who are already coaches and are looking for some tips and ideas on how to take their practice to another level.

Starting with anybody out there who would like to take themselves into a professional coaching career, here are my thoughts on exactly that. The first thing to say is that coaching isn't a hobby. It might not be something that you do full time - it might be something you do alongside your other career, but the point is that it's a profession. The point is you need to take it seriously and give it the time and the learning that's needed. This way you maintain the integrity of the work that you do, but you also understand the importance, the significance of the techniques that you'll be using.

As a coach, there are a number of qualifications that you can get from different certified bodies, and there are different levels, obviously from starting coaching calls right through to a doctorate equivalent.

There is a world of difference between coaching and mentoring. Coaching is exclusively about helping the other person find their way forward, find their way to becoming the person they want to be, to achieve the goals they want to achieve. And the responsibility for that is entirely theirs. As a mentor, what you are actually doing is sharing your knowledge and experience with somebody who hopefully can use that to their advantage. As a professional coach, you need to understand and apply fundamentally different techniques, whether you are mentoring or whether you're coaching. Obviously, you can do both in the course of the same session, but there are some tips and techniques around this, some guidelines around this, that are really quite important for achieving what you can, for the best results for your coaching.

First of all, coaching is literally your questions and their answers - it's lots and lots of open questions. Helping the coachee reflect and consider and identify the way forward they want to go. Coaching is about incremental improvement; it's about day by day, week by week, incrementally being better. So that over a period of a coaching program, say six months or twelve months, they have made substantial progress, but not in one big leap.

Mentoring, because it's effectively sharing knowledge and experience, is essentially training. The danger here is that you give instruction, rather than just information, and by giving instruction, it could be in the guise of saying ‘If I were you, what I would do is...’. If you adopt that kind of posture, you take responsibility away from the coachee, and that's not your role and it's not fair either. You're limiting the amount of personal development that they can get from what you are trying to do for them.

As a mentor, you need to ask permission in a coaching session. Would you like to know what I've seen before in this area? Would it help if I shared with you some of my experiences? You can't just launch into saying ‘what I know about this is...’. This is important fundamentally because your role is to help them to learn, to be continuously open to development, to continuously absorb and self-reflect and grow, and certainly taking responsibility away from them isn't fair.

If you are moving into coaching and mentoring therefore as a profession, get a qualification, do the studies, do the learning, get the practice, get the supervision, and learn your trade.

Once you've started to do that, the next thing to think about is who exactly is it that you want to help? Is it in the workplace? And if it's in the workplace, at what level is it? Business leaders, business owners, is it salespeople? Is it a more tailored position? If you want to help engineers or want to help production managers, then be clear about your niche. Be clear about your area of expertise and focus. It's clear that coaching techniques can be easily applied across the spectrum of different company sizes, and different organisation types, but as an individual, your energy levels, your commitment, your interest, and your zeal is going to come from areas that interest you, and that is important to identify early into your training.

Once you've identified your niche, you need to think about how you're going to acquire clients. Clearly, you can do it on the basis of pro bono. You can do it as an adjunct to your day-to-day activities if that's what you choose. But if you're going to do it as a business, if you're going to do it to generate income, you need to think really carefully about how you're going to acquire clients.

The best way is probably going to be referrals from people that know you, people that trust you, people that have experienced all of the great things that you've done for them in a coaching system; sharing that and recommending you to other people. But that is not likely to be enough, that is not likely to generate all of the intent and interest that you're going to be looking for.

You need to think about other routes to market. You're going to want a LinkedIn page. You're going to want a website; with all of the obvious touchstone points so that anybody checking you out would arrive quickly to look to find out more about you. Within that, you need testimonials. You need examples of the work that you do, and clearly identify the niche and the type of person that you are looking for, to help within your marketing campaigns.

Therefore, virtually every route to market is going to be necessary, whether that's one-to-one networking, whether that's working, networking in groups such as BNI and so on, or whether that is digital marketing, email campaigns, postings on LinkedIn videos, podcasts, public speaking, and any route to raise your profile within the community so that people know that you are there and available to them should they be looking for coaching.

Finally, you also need to be clear about the techniques that you're going to use. Are you going to use self-awareness tools? Are you going to use psychometric testing? Are you going to have a private room or you can meet people? Are you always going to go to their premises? What's the format? How is it actually going to be in practice, on the ground, day to day?

Then, once you're doing that, you've got to start to work out what you intend to charge. This isn't going to be a lesson on finances, but you need to charge for the value of the work that you do, not just the cost of your time. You are doing important work and people tremendously benefit from the work that you do. Therefore, it's important that they understand that that comes at a price. Equally, the value that you charge them reflects their commitment to the work that they're going to be doing with you. If it's very cheap, you can assume that they're not serious about wanting to self-improve. If it's a genuine investment for them, then you can be absolutely certain they're taking the whole process very seriously.

The next, and perhaps the most important part of all of this, is to remember that coaching is all about them and not about you. You may have gained the benefit of having done the work and enjoyed the process, but really you are there to facilitate their personal development and know that when they've got where they want to go, you may not be needed; you may not be able to help them any further. And they may need, at a later date, a different coach; someone who's got slightly different techniques, a different approach.

It might be that they come back to you in a year's time, or two years' time and say’ Can we have another go? Can we go now that I'm at this level? Can we go to another level?’, and accept that this is the nature of the work. It's not an ongoing, forever situation. If that is the case, then you're not really coaching them - you're becoming a crutch and that's not really healthy or beneficial for the long term.

So, there you have it. If you're interested in being a coach, take it seriously, get the qualification, do the studies, get the experience and then work out who it is you really want to help and how you're going to help them.


That was the latest edition of The Coaching Conversation. I hope you found it interesting. I hope you found it useful. You can find out more about our coaching programmes at

If you want to reach out you can send us an email at you can book a free 15-minute coaching session at which will give you a really good feel for how coaching can help you.

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